An African-American woman looks to her white partner and tells him that she’s pregnant. He smiles at her and says, “Good.” He takes her hand and repeats, “That’s good.” And so begins Loving, the story of Richard and Mildred Loving, an interracial couple living in 1950’s and 60’s Virginia whose involvement in the Supreme Court case of Loving Vs Virginia saw the American constitution amended to recognise interracial marriage. It was a landmark case that set a precedent and made massive strides in the Civil Rights Movement.
Richard and Mildred fell in love in their small hamlet community in the Caroline County of Virginia. Their town was mostly integrated and isolated from the oppression and prejudices surrounding them. With interracial marriage outlawed in their state, they traveled to Washington DC and tied the knot before returning home to lead a happy and quiet life. When the local authorities discovered their unlawful union, they were arrested, convicted of miscegenation and given a suspended prison sentence with the condition that they leave the state for no less than 25 years. Several years later, Robert Kennedy referred a civil rights lawyer to their case and their story was propelled into the national spotlight.
Inspired by the acclaimed HBO documentary The Loving Story, director Jeff Nichols has crafted a moving and sincere film that casts its attention upon the unwavering and impenetrable love that defines its characters. Where he could have taken a strong political position, he chose to tell a story about strength in the face of adversity – by which the emotional anchor amplifies the themes – and the film is all the more powerful for it.
Nichols’ previous credits include Take Shelter, Mud and Midnight Special, all of which showcase an acuteness for the environment surrounding his stories. He has a unique ability to use the landscapes that his characters inhabit as an integral component to the drama, and Loving is no exception. With a striking 1950s and 1960s setting, his production design feels classic, and the wide lens of his camera captures an authenticity that a closer observation might have neglected. Despite all of the hatred and bigotry that overbear the Lovings’ lives, there remains a strong sense of unity within their family, as well as their broader community, and the effectiveness of delivering it on screen is due in part to Adam Stone’s carefully considered cinematography.
Nichols reunites with his Midnight Special cohort, Joel Edgerton, who delivers what might be the performance of his career. At first I was apprehensive of his place in the film, but was quickly reassured thanks to his finely tuned steely demeanour and use of body language. He was the ideal candidate, bringing integrity and earnestness to the film and an ability to express a confliction of emotions all within a single look. Watching him respond to the persistent adversity throughout the film is inspiring and worthy of accolade. Ruth Negga co-stars and offers an equally powerful performance that counteracts Edgerton’s downtrodden manner with a well-measured level of optimism. Her character’s evolution is the more conspicuous of the two and she tackles each phase with poise and integrity. It comes as no surprise that she was nominated for an Academy Award. Nichol’s regular go-to guy, Michael Shannon, also makes an appearance as a Life Magazine photographer whose images prove pivotal in putting their case in the public eye. He is good, although his role is little more than a cameo.
The film does, however, skirt around the uglier sides of the story, with the bigotry and hatred that torments the characters being mostly suggested. And yet, in lieu of detailing the profanity of racism, Nichol has overlaid the film with an ever-present sense of dread. There is an ongoing awareness that something bad might happen at any time, which lends the story a persistent unpredictability. It’s a clever storytelling device that brings uncertainty to a well documented true-story.
The overriding narrative of Loving proves to be a powerful and relevant allegory for the modern times we live in, and without flagrantly pushing an agenda it reminds us that equality for all is a fundamental right we must continue to strive for. Add the weight of two outstanding performances and the capable direction of an auteur filmmaker and the result is one of the year’s most sincere films.
THE REEL SCORE: 9/10